1

Sustainable Missoula: Preschool encourages sustainability from the start

Students in the Explorer class help clean the coop and collect eggs. (Torry Avery photo)

The Clark Fork School (CFS) was recently recognized for a second time in December 2020 by the Eco-Schools USA program. CFS, a nature-based preschool in the Rattlesnake neighborhood of Missoula, became Montana’s first Eco-School in 2012.

There are 39 certified EcoSchools in Montana, but CFS is currently the only school in the state to have received a Green Flag, and we now have two.

The Green Flag is the highest level of award possible in the Eco-Schools USA program and involves working on three environmental focus areas. For our second Green Flag award, our students focused on biodiversity, energy and water pathways. Students and teachers assessed the biodiversity in our school garden, examined where we could be more energy efficient, and helped families install rain barrels to use rainwater for playground use instead of freshwater.

Kiddos from all age groups are involved in the sustainability of our school and community. This includes students in our youngest class who are just two years old! At CFS we believe it is never too early to start learning about the environment and our roles in stewarding it.

Students in each class decide on community agreements with their classmates and teachers. Each agreement focuses on showing respect for others, the school and our environment. Students ask themselves, “How can we take care of the Earth?” Teachers model sustainability by commuting via bus, carpool or bike, bringing reusable lunch containers and water bottles, and composting food scraps in the school garden. We have a reward system for staff members who commute sustainably to school, which includes perks like gift cards to local Missoula businesses.

Last year when the school closed down during the pandemic, the Chickadee class teachers Whitni Kent and Sarah Clark used Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental stewardship with their students. Since they couldn’t celebrate together in person, Whitni and Sarah collected a bag of trash for each of their students at Greenough Park and the Riverfront Trail System to show the kids they were thinking about them, as well as about the Earth.

“We want to instill the idea of sustainability in our students from a young age and help them realize it’s a way to focus on the solution, rather than the problem, and how they can be a part of that solution,” said Whitni. This is just one of many ways that sustainability is integrated directly into the curriculum by teachers for the kiddos to learn from and be inspired by.

In prior years other environmental initiatives included weekly hunts for microtrash on the school playground by the after-school enrichment program, and organizing a sustainable art show with other preschools called “Trashformations.” For this art show, each school created a piece made out of recycled materials.

One of CFS’ contributions was a Great Blue Heron made of recycled PVC, broken toys that students brought from home, and telephone cords. These pieces now decorate our classrooms and outside spaces! “It’s been fun not only to encourage sustainable art here at CFS, but also to encourage it in other preschool communities,” said Sarah (Clark).

Are you interested in the Eco-School USA program? Eco-School USA’s Montana representative, Naomi Alhadeff, is based right here in Missoula! Your school might already have environmental initiatives which can be easily recognized in the Eco-Schools USA program.

“What I want teachers and schools to understand is Eco-Schools USA is a relatively easy and straightforward process just to get the ball rolling. Eco-Schools USA is an NWF program giving schools the framework needed to integrate sustainability principles into the school, grounds, and curriculum. The Green Flag is awarded to Eco-Schools who have followed pathways and met several criteria. Clark Fork School achieved their first Green Flag in 2016, receiving their second Green Flag in December of 2020.

However, I’d be so happy to get more schools in Missoula, or anywhere in Montana, more involved and be recognized not only nationally but internationally. Montana schools are already doing amazing sustainable activities or teaching environmentally friendly subjects. Eco-Schools USA allows the school to be recognized for these achievements and I’m available to help in this journey.“ -Naomi Alhadeff, Senior Coordinator, Montana Education Programs for the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, MT.

Sarah Kilbourne is the Program & Enrollment Coordinator at the Clark Fork School in Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Lot’s of events and ideas to celebrate earth day, week and month – stay tuned!

Now through March 21. Apply for a garden plot from Garden City Harvest! Garden City Harvest is taking new gardener applications! Each of the community gardens provides participants with a garden plot, tools, water, straw, compost, and educational resources to help them grow their own food. Apply by March 21 for the best chance of receiving a plot this spring! More info HERE or call 406-523-3663.

March 24. 6 pm. Virtual event. Missoula Connect our 2050 Long-Range Transportation Plan is in the final stages of development before adoption in summer of 2021. Join us to learn more about the plan’s development that lead to the draft projects and programs lists. This open house is framed around providing a context to participants with an emphasis on opportunities for questions and feedback!

For more information on the plan and an opportunity to complete a survey visit: https://www.missoulampo.com/long-range-transportation-plan

March 25, 5pm. Virtual event. Decarbonize Your Money: Investments and More. This free “happy hour” Zoom panel discussion will focus on how to decarbonize your money from personal investments and more. Join Families for a Livable Climate to learn about putting your privilege and money in the service of creating real change on a system-wide level.

April 2. 5:30pm. Electric Vehicle Rally, Adventure Cycling Parking Lot (150 E. Pine). Join Electric Vehicle owners to celebrate the joys and benefits of electric vehicles, driving up and down Higgins and ending at the Adventure Cycling parking lot. Happening every first Friday at 5:30pm.

April 6, 12 – 1pm. The First Step to Fixing Climate Change with scientist and climate communicator extraordinaire Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. Families for a Livable Climate virtual event.

Now through April. Montana Legislature is in session. Get the awesome “How to be Involved Guide” from Montana Free Press. To follow efforts for clean energy, climate, conservation and sustainability, consider connecting with (and getting the low down and action alerts from):

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17.

Through April 22. Thursdays, 7pm. Seeking Sustainability Lecture Series. In 2020, this lecture series celebrated 50 years of Earth Day by focusing on Missoula’s sustainability efforts & featuring 60 speakers. In 2021 many of those speakers will return to give updates on how their programs have adapted to the crises we face. Check out this year’s schedule HERE. 2020 recordings are available HERE.

Through June 19 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.